Economists Say City Minimum Wage Means Big Boost for Working Class

Christopher D. Cook, San Francisco Public Press — Apr 10 2013 - 3:26pm

Backers say it helps recruitment and retention, opponents say it kills jobs

This story is part of a special report in the Spring print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.

“Job killer” is a common refrain from businesses in opposing wage increases and other worker benefits. But some researchers are challenging the assumption that boosting the minimum wage depresses hiring. “We don’t see any decline in employment,” said Michael Reich, director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley.

‘I Don’t Think You Can Survive in This City on the Minimum Wage’

Christopher D. Cook, San Francisco Public Press — Apr 10 2013 - 3:21pm

At S.F.’s largest soup kitchen, working adults say full-time work no longer pays the rent

This story is part of a special report in the Spring print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.

As President Obama’s minimum wage hike proposal renews a national debate over costs and benefits, many low-wage workers in San Francisco say they can hardly get by even on the nation’s highest minimum wage of $10.55, which is nearly $3 an hour higher than the federal rate. As rents have soared above $1,500 for a typical studio apartment,  low-income workers say San Francisco’s minimum wage isn’t enough to keep up. 

Rent-Control Tenants May Foot the Bill for Mandatory Seismic Retrofits

Noah Arroyo, San Francisco Public Press — Apr 3 2013 - 4:53pm

Tenants in 3,000 rent-controlled buildings could potentially pay all the costs of retrofitting those structures against earthquake damage unless they receive a financial hardship waiver from the city’s Rent Board, under the provisions of a new law approved Tuesday by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors will vote again on the retrofit law on April 9, and it will need the mayor’s signature before becoming law.

Testing Online Privacy Limits, OKCupid Lets Strangers Read Intimate Messages

Rachel Swan, SF Public Press — Mar 25 2013 - 2:19pm

Users on the popular dating site OKCupid.com might not be aware of it, but fellow participants have been tapped to be community moderators, who have access to private correspondence. Those with access to the “moderation” button often are checking accounts that have been flagged for possible terms of service violations. But they also get to eavesdrop on what many users assumed to be private conversations.

Tenants Say Earthquake Retrofit Law Could Circumvent Rent Control

Noah Arroyo, San Francisco Public Press — Mar 20 2013 - 4:04pm

A proposed San Francisco law designed to save rent-controlled housing stock from the next big earthquake could actually displace low-income tenants, say tenant rights advocates. Building owners could pass through the cost of the retrofits to tenants in the form of monthly rent increases. Tenants’ only recourse would be to successfully declare financial hardship.

UCSF Facing Cuts in Wake of Sequester; Free Bus Passes for Youth

Ambika Kandasamy, SF Public Press — Mar 4 2013 - 1:40pm

Sequestration isn’t just some Washington abstraction. It’s hitting home. The automatic federal budget cuts that rolled out on Friday — known as the sequester — are going to hurt the University of California, San Francisco. The world-class teaching hospital and research center receives funding from the National Institutes of Health. According to KQED’s “California Report,” the university’s vice chancellor for research, Keith Yamamoto, said that some laboratories have already instituted hiring freezes.

Bringing Life Back to Mountain Lake

Dhyana Levey, Bay Nature — Feb 28 2013 - 7:33pm

As drivers speed along Highway 1, past the Richmond District and into the Presidio, they might only catch a quick glimpse of Mountain Lake off to the east. But anyone who takes a stroll down to this small body of water, tucked away behind a playground and tennis court, will see one of the city’s only remaining natural lakes – and one of its oldest.

Up-to-Date Earthquake Kit Will Increase Your Survival Chances (Infographic)

Jason Winshell and Anna Vignet, SF Public Press — Feb 11 2013 - 11:58am

It’s never too late to prepare for the next big earthquake. The California Emergency Management Agency advises that the first 72 hours after a disaster are critical. Electricity, gas and water may be unavailable and first responders will be busy focusing emergency services on the most serious crises. Having an earthquake kit is key to toughing it out on your own. Here’s what it should have, at a minimum.

Mandatory Earthquake Retrofit Proposal Advances Quickly in San Francisco City Hall

Noah Arroyo, SF Public Press — Feb 5 2013 - 5:38pm

San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu Tuesday unveiled legislation to make seismic retrofits mandatory for so-called soft-story buildings throughout the city. Chiu called the proposal to make retrofitting mandatory in stages by 2020 the “next major step to ensure that we are prepared for the next big one.” He said he expected a major quake, which could happen anytime, could be two to three times stronger than the 1989 Loma Prieta quake that destroyed 7,000 buildings statewide. (Listen to Public Press reporter Noah Arroyo on KQED Radio’s “Forum”)

San Francisco Would Post Signs Warning of Earthquake Risk on Buildings Whose Owners Fail to Retrofit

Noah Arroyo, SF Public Press — Feb 5 2013 - 11:05am

A plan being unveiled Tuesday in San Francisco would require the city to inform the owners of thousands of potentially earthquake-unsafe buildings that they need to retrofit at their own cost or demonstrate why not. If they don’t comply, the city would post a scarlet-letter sign on the property: “This building is in violation of the requirements of the San Francisco Building Code regarding earthquake safety.” (Listen to Public Press reporter Noah Arroyo on KQED Radio’s “Forum”)

San Francisco Plan Would Earthquake-Proof Thousands of Soft-Story Buildings by 2020

Noah Arroyo, SF Public Press — Feb 1 2013 - 4:41pm

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is planning to take up a proposal to force owners of soft-story buildings to retrofit them by 2020, said a city official in charge of earthquake safety. Supervisors Scott Wiener and David Chiu plan to sponsor the ordinance and other supervisors might co-sponsor it by Tuesday. The legislation would apply only to wood-frame buildings built before 1978, with at least three stories. Unlike previous proposals, the new law would come without direct financial aid from the city. Financing questions, one official said, were “a major reason for the delay.”

Homeless People of San Francisco Speak Out

T.J. Johnston, SF Public Press — Jan 28 2013 - 1:10pm

The San Francisco Public Press interviewed people living in the city without housing as they gathered at the Mission Resource Center and the S.F. Night Ministry open cathedral Sunday service at United Nations Plaza. They shared their experiences about lacking a permanent place to live.

As Long Lines Form Daily Outside Homeless Shelters, City to Eject Disorderly Clients

T.J. Johnston, SF Public Press — Jan 25 2013 - 11:23am

Frequent calls to the police to respond to disturbances outside a South of Market homeless shelter have prompted the city to crack down on misbehavior and make it easier for shelters to summarily reject clients seeking a bed. Practically every day at the Multi-Service Center South shelter, the police are called to break up a fight or quell acts of violence. But the problem isn’t just inside the shelter. Homeless activists say the long lines people must wait in for hours makes the space outside the building a conflict zone.

Tech Boom Will Spin Off Thousands of S.F. Jobs: Q&A With Supervisor David Chiu

Aaron Tilley, SF Public Press — Jan 23 2013 - 4:53pm

When it comes to jobs, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu is putting his political stock in high tech. Until he and Mayor Ed Lee teamed up to keep Twitter and other information companies in the city, he said, “San Francisco was the least inviting city for tech innovation.”

San Francisco’s Most Urgently Needed Retrofits

Noah Arroyo, SF Public Press — Jan 22 2013 - 1:43pm

There are three types of construction in San Francisco that pose hazards to occupants during a major earthquake. Here is a composite look at the present state of efforts to correct the problem around the city.

Potentially Earthquake-Unsafe Residential Buildings — a (Very Rough) List

Noah Arroyo, SF Public Press — Jan 14 2013 - 1:51pm

This story appeared in the Winter 2012-2013 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.

San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection has kept a preliminary list of potentially dangerous soft-story buildings since 2009, but inspectors say it has not been verified by actual building inspections, and was never intended for public consumption. Some of the addresses the city generated might be wrong. The Public Press is publishing the list so that residents who might possibly be at risk in their homes can participate in the debate over how best to retrofit thousands of properties in coming years.

No One Wants to Go First: S.F.'s Retrofit Timeline

Noah Arroyo, SF Public Press — Jan 10 2013 - 12:08pm

This story appeared in the Winter 2012-2013 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.

A plan to require seismic retrofits on as many as 3,000 “soft-story” buildings in San Francisco can’t be executed all at once, experts say, because there aren’t enough engineers and contractors who know how to do the work. So city officials are developing a system of triage: Deal with the most dangerous buildings with the most people in them first. 

Earthquake Retrofit Delays Leave Thousands at Risk

Noah Arroyo and Barbara Grady, SF Public Press — Jan 7 2013 - 6:38pm

It will take at least 7 years to secure older wood buildings dangerously perched above windows or garages

This story appeared in the Winter 2012-2013 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.

One in 14 San Franciscans lives in an old building with a first floor that city inspectors say could be vulnerable to collapse if not retrofitted soon to withstand a major earthquake.While officials have had a preliminary list of nearly 3,000 suspect properties for more than three years, they have not told landlords, leaving the estimated 58,000 residents who live there ignorant that their buildings could be unstable.

Dirtytech: They Obsessively Sort and Recycle What You Dump

Hannah Miller, SF Public Press — Dec 20 2012 - 12:54pm

If you think of Recology as a set of blue, green and black bins that hang out in the alley of your house that you roll out to the curb weekly — you have no idea. Over the last 10 years, what San Franciscans have been thinking of “garbage collection” has been transformed into something vastly different and much more industrial. Last month the 91-year-old worker-owned company announced that 80 percent of what San Franciscans put in the bins is going somewhere other than the landfill, a vast improvement on the 34 percent national average. The 650 tons a day of recyclables hauled by Recology is divided up almost entirely by hand, by a vast army of sorters.

'Homeless Bill of Rights' Seeks Legal Protections for Those on the Streets

Dec 12 2012 - 5:32pm

A new push for a statewide “Homeless Bill of Rights” could lead to free legal representation for anyone citied under laws such as San Francisco’s sit-lie law or anti-panhandling ordinance.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, introduced Assembly Bill 5, as a response to what he said was a national trend of enforcing laws on public behaviors related to homelessness.

If it becomes law, California’s homeless residents would have the same anti-discrimination protections for their housing status as others do for race, sexual orientation and other personal characteristics.

“We need to stop criminalizing the behavior of people who have nowhere else to turn,” Ammiano said. “People who are in need of mental health services or who have lost jobs and their homes are being told, ‘Move along or go to jail.’”

The bill would bar discriminating against homeless people while they seek or maintain tax-funded benefits. It also asserts a right to be in public places, personal property, use of public facilities, confidentiality of medical records and legal representation in low-level criminal proceedings — infractions, as opposed to misdemeanors. Rhode Island enacted a similar law in June.

But the thrust of the state legislation is to challenge local ordinances making infractions of sitting on sidewalks or loitering, which allies of homeless people say are disproportionately enforced on low-income people.

Failing to appear in court to answer charges can lead to jail time. The bill, said Ammiano spokesman Carlos Alcala, intends to prevent scenarios similar to Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” in which a stolen loaf of bread leads to years in jail.

“That’s the sort of thing people are sent for 19 years for, and are turned into criminals for doing so,” Alcala said.

The right to legal counsel would extend to homeless people in any judicial proceeding. The cost of legal counsel for these purposes is not specified in the bill.

Director Paul Boden of the San Francisco-based Western Regional Advocacy Project homeless lobbying group, said laws that penalize poverty-related acts were preceded by those that targeted groups ranging from disabled people to Dust Bowl migrants in the 1930s.

“From the ‘ugly laws’ of the mid-19th century — which made it a crime to have a visible disability in public — through the anti-Okie law of the Great Depression — which made it a crime for poor people to enter the state — and up through the present, state and local governments have used unjust laws to punish or conceal poor people,” he said.

The group surveyed more than 800 homeless people throughout the U.S. and found that three-fourths have been stopped by police for sleeping, sitting or loitering outdoors. Half said the appearance of homelessness prompted contact with law enforcement.

A Public Press analysis earlier this year found that over a five-year period police issued almost 40,000 tickets to homeless people for a host of low-level offenses.

Such priorities should switch from policing to helping people leave homelessness, said Colleen Rivecca, policy and advocacy coordinator of Homeless Youth Alliance, an organization in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood serving clients in their teens and 20s.

“Especially in the Haight, we have seen laws that are supposed to apply equally to everyone be selectively enforced against homeless people,” she said. “We need to shift our focus from enforcing laws that are meant to prohibit the existence of homeless people to proactive policies that can build a foundation for the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable members of our community.”

But Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the Castro and parts of the Mission, is against the bill. Earlier this year, the board passed Wiener’s ordinance expanding a camping ban to two plazas in his district. The proposed state law could override such efforts.

“I don’t support this effort to undermine local laws that prevent public spaces from becoming homeless encampments,” he wrote in a Facebook posting. “Public spaces are for everyone, and it doesn’t build great neighborhoods to allow people to turn those public spaces into sleeping quarters.”

The bill is expected to have its first hearing in the Capitol in March.